Once upon a time simply having a customized shipping box was enough to stand out in a sea of plain kraft cardboard. With the rise of stylized boxes from monthly subscription services and the newfound understanding that the unboxing experience matters, it's no longer enough for your shipping box to just look good (don't miss our primer on How to Create Cool Box Designs). Follow these five tenets of what makes a good shipping box so your product, brand, and packaging will stand out this holiday gifting season.
1. Your Shipping Box Must Be Durable.
With all the fuss about using a standout box, you don’t want to overlook a box's primary purpose: to get an item or items undamaged from point A to B. There are two measures of strength to know if your box will go the distance, the Edge Crush Test, which measures the stacking strength of a box, and the Mullen Test, which measures the bursting strength of a box. An ECT of 32 can hold 30 pounds or less and is the standard-bearer for most shipping applications. A box also rated 200# test is recommended when you want extra durability. The Mullen rating provides peace of mind for extra jostling, and a 200# test box can handle up to 40 pounds.
2. Your Shipping Box Must Get There on Time.
Nothing says holiday gifting fail like a package that's delivered after the holidays. To get your shipping box to a customer on time, there are a few tenants to follow. First, you’ll want to check the holiday schedule for shipping companies such as the U.S. Post Office, FedEx, and UPS, and make sure that you advise your customers accordingly when they place an order.
You'll also want to compare shipping method with transit times, says Dwight Blaha, co-founder of Distinct Packaging and an ecommerce and shipping veteran. For instance, depending on route, it’s possible that Ground will deliver a package on a next day schedule and at a lower cost than official Next Day Air shipping. “It's amazing how much you can save,” Blaha says.
Other factors that can affect shipping time are severe weather, the location of a shipping address (in a rural area vs a city, for example, or outside the continental U.S. to Alaska and Hawaii), and overall volume depending on the time of year.
3. Your Shipping Box Must Stand Out Visually.
Boxes should catch people's attention, of course, but they must also be easily identifiable as part of your brand, much like a Tiffany box feels like an integral part of the overall Tiffany company, says Blaha. That means you’ll need to be clear on your brand’s look and feel, with specifics on fonts, colors, and use cases, and apply that knowledge to customizing your box.
Many companies do well to tweak their branded shipping box designs especially for the holidays in the same way that Starbucks releases a yearly holiday-themed cup, says Blaha, who recommends small tweaks to an existing design to catch your regular customers’ attention.
Another way to set your holiday box apart from the crowd is to use an upgraded shipping material, such as Premium White Gloss, which puts an extra UV coating on printed surfaces for a sophisticated look.
The design mantra of "less is more" applies to shipping boxes too, so think simple when you're dressing up a box for the holidays. That might mean adding a single bow or designing something creative around the address label section of the box, suggests Blaha.
For more tips and tricks on making a box stand out visually check out Mistakes NOT to Make When Designing a Box.
4. Your Shipping Box Must Evoke an Emotional Response
To ensure your customized shipping box has the "wow" factor you want, Blaha recommends adding something a little extra. On the box itself, that might mean adding printing to the inside of the box — an inspirational quote, witty message, thank-you, or an invitation to shop again at a discount.
Beyond the box, the presentation of the product itself can also influence a consumer's experience, Blaha says. Consider wrapping items ordered in tissue paper, using branded stickers, wrapping multiple items separately, and including other add-ins like branded card inserts.
"What's in the box should add to the product so it's this whole experience," Blaha says. "As you're getting deeper into the product, you're also getting more into the company, and it triggers a positive emotional response."
5. Your Shipping Box Must Prompt Another Order
As noted above, a shipping box should get your order to your customer in one piece, arrive on time, be notable, and have a touch of je ne sais quoi to make it memorable. If you're doing your custom shipping box for the holidays right, your box should do one more thing: prompt another order, whether the item is a gift or self-ordered.
The goal should be for your box to live a second life in a consumer's home, instead of heading straight for the recycling bin, a distinction which largely depends on a consumer's emotional response to the design. "If the packaging looks good enough, you're going to keep it around," Blaha says.
Pizza Hut has a lock on using its boxes in eye-catching ways, like as a video projector for one publicity stunt or as the field for a flick football game. A reusable design doesn't have to be fancy; however, it can simply mean a box that's attractive enough to double as storage for stationery, old photographs, jewelry, makeup, or other odds and ends.
If you've designed your shipping box experience correctly, it also has the potential to reach beyond the end user via an unboxing video on Instagram, YouTube or other social media sharing site. "Unboxing videos help continue to get the brand out there, so that new customers might be ordering from you too," Blaha says.
If you're looking to design your own eye-catching custom holiday packaging, you may want to give Distinct Packaging a try.